Wednesday, October 03, 2018

Rural workers get fewer benefits to help with elder care

"Rural employees who care for elderly family members are less likely than urban employees to receive helpful workplace benefits like flex time, paid leave or the option of telecommuting," Tim Marema reports for The Daily Yonder. That's according to a study by Carrie Henning-Smith, an assistant professor in the Division of Health Policy and Management at the University of Minnesota’s School of Public Health, and co-author Megan Lahr.

In addition to fewer benefits, rural caregivers likely face other hurdles such as a lack of transportation. That's a problem when 90 percent of the long-term care senior citizens receive is freely given by friends or family; if someone were paid to do that work, it would be worth $500 billion a year nationwide. And because rural populations tend to be older, they face a greater overall need for caregivers.

The study found that, though rural and urban caregivers spent a similar amount of time providing care and felt similar amounts of personal strain because of their caregiving activities, the big difference was their employee benefits. "Urban workers were more likely than rural workers to have an employee assistance program (which provides referrals for medical and other services). They were more likely to be able to telecommute and be able to use paid leave to care for a loved one," Marema reports.

Henning-Smith speculates that the difference in available employee benefits may be because rural and urban workers tend to work in different industries, and also that rural workers may have fewer jobs available and may not be able to be choosy about the jobs they take. 

"We also know that there are broader structural issues at play," Henning-Smith told Marema. "One of them is access to broadband internet. It’s one thing to tell an employee they can work remotely if you have really good access to internet. If you don’t, it might be impossible for someone to work remotely." Local, state and federal policies governing paid sick time and minimum wages may also contribute to caregivers' ability to help their elderly family members, she said.

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